You are on page 1of 6


Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007



Valentin CIUPE, Inocentiu MANIU

“Politehnica” University of Timisoara, Department of Mechatronics

Keywords: pneumatic valve, flow control, stepper motor.

Abstract: A standard 5/2 piloted pneumatic valve is modified in such a manner that its spool can be actuated
proportionally to a programmed input digital value. Tests are conducted to determine the ability of the system
to control the flow and thus the speed of a pneumatic cylinder.


Flow control combined with directional control are desirable properties of a versatile
pneumatic valve, but those prove to be difficult goals to achieve mainly because of the
physical limitations of the operating medium itself and also due to inherent design and
construction challenges. The paper presents a modified standard pneumatic valve, in
terms of spool actuation, that is able to control both flow and direction at the same time.


The valve used is a standard FESTO pneumatic valve, of the 5/2 piloted type. It
uses compressed air with pressure up to 10 bar, in order to provide directional control for
actuators, with a maximum flow of 500 l/min. The valve uses a steel cylindrical spool that
slides inside a cast aluminum body, under the action of the pilot pressure. This pressure is
independently applied to the faces of the two piston type seals found at each end of the
spool. Sealing is insured by nitrile rubber o-rings mounted in recesses machined in the
valve’s body. The valve itself is mounted on a sub-base plate containing pneumatic
connections and the silencers. Picture 1 represents a sectional view of the valve and its
schematic symbol. The main pneumatic characteristics of this valve are detailed in Table1,
as per FESTO datasheet (product code: J-5/2-D-02).

Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007

a) sectional view b) schematic symbol

Fig.1. The standard pneumatic valve

Table 1. Valve specifications

Valve function 5/2 bistable

Type of actuation pneumatic
Width 18 mm
Standard nominal flow rate 500 l/min
Operating pressure -0.9 - 10 bar
Design structure Piston slide
Nominal size 6 mm
Exhaust-air function throttleable
Sealing principle soft
Type of piloting direct
Pilot air supply Internal
Flow direction reversible
Pilot pressure 2 - 10 bar
Switching time reversal 6 ms
Operating medium filtered compressed air, grade of filtration 40 µm,
lubricated or unlubricated
Pilot medium filtered compressed air, grade of filtration 40 µm,
lubricated or unlubricated

This type of valve was chosen due to its availability at the research location and
because by forcing the spool in a central, symmetrical position, it functions as a 5/3 valve
in the neutral position. The central section of the spool extends over both seals by
approximately 0.2mm, one obtaining in this position a positive coverage spool, suitable for
flow control with a certain precision.

Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007


By removing the pilot assemblies from the standard valve, it reveals the outermost
sections of its spool, at both ends. In order to transform this result into a controllable
proportional valve, linking of the spool mechanically to a linear electro-mechanical actuator
is mandatory.
The method approached in this paper (see figure 2) is to have a stepper motor (2)
elastically coupled (3) to a screw & nut mechanism (4). Practically there are two nuts (5)
mounted with an elastic washer between them (for backlash compensation) and forced
into a plastic sleeve (6) that in its turn is thermally forced over one end of the spool.
Because the spool is cylindrical there is a tendency of rotation when actuated by the
screw, and here comes into play a steel locking rod (8) rigidly forced into another plastic
sleeve (6) mounted at the other end of the spool. The rod is allowed to slide inside a fixed
tube. Also in this sleeve is mounted a small black plastic flag which is used as an infrared
barrier for the optical home switch (9). As the stepper motor has a small amount of axial
play that could influence the operating of the system, a lamellar spring (1) was bolted
against the motor’s shaft in order to overcome this play.
In this setup the spool still slides inside the valve’s body (not drawn) at full stroke,
as the space normally occupied by the pilot assemblies (cylinders and piston-seals) inside
the body are now replaced by the plastic sleeves.

Fig.2. The modified valve. Principle of actuation

In order to determine a relation between the steps of the motor and the
displacement of the spool, the mechanical parameters of the kinematic chain must be
established first.
The stepper motor is of unipolar type, having a precision of 18 degrees/step and
because it is driven in “half-step” mode it achieves a resolution of 40 steps per full
revolution. The screw is of type M5 having 1mm pitch, with an usable length of 20mm.
Knowing these, it can be concluded that there is a relation of direct proportionality between
the motor steps and the spool displacement:

Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007

ds = (1)

where: ds is the spool displacement in mm, sp is the pitch of the screw (mm) and ns is the
number of steps the motor turns. By applying this formula to the known parameters it gives
that for each half-step of the motor, the spool moves by 0.025mm.


In order to investigate the ability to perform of such a modified valve a test stand
was set up (figure 3). This consists of the valve-actuator assembly, a source of
compressed and regulated air (represented by a Jun-Air silent compressor and a FESTO
Series D filter-regulator unit), a standard double acting cylinder (DSNU-20-100-PPV-A)
and two FESTO digital pressure sensors (only used for pressure monitoring) branched
from the cylinder’s air supply.

Fig.3. Test stand setup

The electrical part of the stand (figure 4) consists of a power supply having 12V and
5V (regulated), a power Darlington matrix for the motor’s coils, the motor itself, the optical
sensor acting as the “home switch”, a parallel port connector and the interconnecting
A classical approach of controlling the stepper motor via 4 data bits of a PC parallel
port was selected for this application as it gives more flexibility in programming. The home
switch is linked to an input bit on the parallel port, thus providing the required “home”
Programming was made under VB6 and making use of a third party parallel port
interface (io.dll) that has predefined function prototypes for controlling the port in VB.

Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007

Fig.4. Test stand. Electrical schematics

The dynamic performance (speed) of the system was limited on two bases: it works in
open-loop by counting steps, so it cannot pass the limit stepping frequency of the motor
and the programming gives only millisecond accurate port control. As a result the stepping
frequency was limited at 5 ms per half-step, thus giving a displacement speed of the spool
of 0.2 sec/mm. This allows for a full stroke (6mm) to be effected in 1.2sec. If the
application is not critical (fast positioning) then this speed is acceptable. For the spool to
move from neutral (home) to a full open position it takes 2.8mm and 0.56 sec respectively
(112 steps).
The hysteresis of the system is present and constant but very small (less than one
full step) and it is due to the inherent elasticity and remaining backlash in the assembly.
But it is still fair reasonable compared to a solenoid actuated spool, as the coulombian
friction and residual pressure generate a smaller force than the minimum actuator thrust
and it also can be counteracted partially by the presence of the home switch.
A general view of the testing stand can be seen in figure 5, having in the right part
the valve assembly with the electronic module, port connector and power supply
connector, in the lower part the double acting cylinder and in the upper part the two
pressure sensors.

Fig.5. General view of the test stand

Fascicle of Management and Technological Engineering, Volume VI (XVI), 2007

Fig.6. Close-up of the modified valve assembly

Figure 6 represents a close-up of the valve assembly, showing the valve body
mounted on the connector sub-base, having the spool attached to the stepper motor via
the screw-nut-sleeve mechanism. Also the anti-rotating rod and home switch are visible.


By making use of the intrinsic design of a standard directional pneumatic spool

valve, it is possible to adapt it, in terms of spool actuation, in a way that such a valve to be
able to maintain directional control and to have another very important specification: flow
control. The test stand revealed that for non speed-critical applications the approach
described in this paper offers reasonable flow control with good repeatability and low
hysteresis. For the system presented here, there is more to follow in terms of determining
the flow curves and other dynamic performance parameters and also to determine the
reliability of the proposed approach.


[1]. Alexandrescu Nicolae e.a. - Raport privind concepŃia, structura şi funcŃionarea prin simulare a unor
variante de servodistribuitoare pneumatice, Contract 89 CEEX-II 03-2006, SPASERVODIST,

[2]. Chamberlain Jerame – Stepper Motors Part 1 & 2, Nippon Pulse America,

[3]. Pei Xiang e.a. – 2d Pneumatic digital servovalve, University of Saskatchewan Canada, Department of
Mechanical Engineering

[4]. ***** - FESTO Product Catalogue,